Healing Series: Brain Re-Training – Maybe It’s Not Your Body Doing It!

Brain iconAs you have read in the Healing Series, I am working on the theory that chronic physical symptoms may have more to do with Pavlovian type conditioned behaviours and brain patterns repeating ad nauseum than with actual physiology gone wrong; that the problem is with the brain in some cases, not the body.

I know this is a huge leap of faith here but do bear with me. I have read an awful lot about this and am currently reading Dr Normal Doidge’s newest book The Brain’s Way of Healing. You may recall that I recommended you read his original book The Brain That Changes Itself a good few months ago now. This one is just as good and I recommend you get yourself a copy.

Here, to whet your appetite is some of a recent email I had discussing this book and neuroplasticity in general. It says exactly what I have been trying to tell you – that we have to consider the brain, even if our symptoms are physical. The emphases are mine:

In his new book Dr. Doidge discusses Dr. Moskowitz’ work with chronic pain and the idea that chronic pain itself can be the result of faulty brain wiring.  He goes on to say “When the neurons in our pain maps get damaged, they fire incessant false alarms, making us believe the problem is in our body, when it is mostly in our brain.” 

Likewise, in other chronic conditions, even when the initial injury has been treated, like the underlying bacteria in Lyme disease, or a virus associated with chronic fatigue or detoxification measures associated with multiple chemical sensitivity, the brain can get stuck in a disease pattern where ongoing symptoms appear to be coming from the body.  But oftentimes the symptoms are due to misfiring in the brain itself.  Many conditions may have a variety of contributing factors, however addressing limbic system function is a key component in the recovery process and is often overlooked.

The next logical question is “How do we remap our brain for optimal health?”  The answer – with knowledge, elbow grease and a huge amount of dedication.   It’s not enough to understand this information – knowledge is only useful when it is applied.  Remapping the brain is an experiential process that takes great focus and consistent effort.  

Recovery through neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change) demands that we embrace remapping the brain as our way out of suffering.  This represents a completely different focus as we shift our attention away from the outer environment or body symptoms and turn our focus inwards, towards changing the neural circuits in the brain that facilitate healing. 

That is absolutely right.

My experience with this is that it is not a kind of positive thinking or telling yourself you’re getting better. It takes enormous repetition of the right brain training to turn this around. But it can be done. The trick, though, is in using a combination of tools or even just one but doing it repetitively. Remember my analogy of the stroke victim who has to repeat movements ad nauseum until he/she gets incrementally tiny amounts of movement back over several months, even years? Well, that’s how I see us with chronic illness with this kind of approach. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Use different methods to change the way your brain is working and how it sees threats, pain and symptoms.

I think, realistically, if I ever took some time off to focus on getting well, I would be doing a combination of Silva (see below), Hanson and Chopra with some EFT for emotional work, lots of reading, journalling and listening to success stories thrown in! Perhaps I should!

OK, what should you repeat then?

There are three main brain retraining programmes about – two of which are quite similar. I trialled all three and more besides. Rather than go through a whole review of each one, I will give you a brief idea and resources to find out more, but I’ll tell you right now, I prefer the Silva one.

The first two are quite similar approaches. First, I tried:

DNRS (Dynamic Neural Retraining System) – US 

Annie Hopper suffered from severe multiple chemical sensitivity and invented this programme to help herself when she couldn’t even live in a house anymore. She believed it was a problem with her limbic system in the brain – the chronic over-sensitivity we have been discussing – and worked out how to retrain it to believe things were safe for her. It worked. And it continues to work in some pretty severe cases.

Here’s just one example where a man with very severe illness made a plea for someone to help save his life basically and used DNRS to turn himself around. I chose this one deliberately, by the way, because he mentions towards the end how food issues were the most difficult to solve, but he did in the end. Hope 🙂

Now, I’m not suggesting you rush out and get this system, nor that it will work like it has for Dan for everyone – I’d imagine far from it. However, I will say it was the first system I tried and that was because someone I knew – albeit via a forum where we had been chatting for a good while – who was very severely multiple chemical and food sensitive got totally better by using it. I was impressed enough to buy it and try it. I found it did really help but overstimulated me; it’s something that started off my brain retraining focus at least and it did get me through a very difficult Christmas when I was super-sensitive to everything. Here’s Erica’s last ever post on her blog after she got better and here is her video testimonial:

There are tons of reviews of this programme on the t’internet. People say it is cult-like, too prescriptive, just weird etc. It is certainly a challenge to the established health paradigm, but then I like that kind of thing :).

You can get a good idea of what the programme is all about here. Even if you don’t end up doing the DVD programme or bootcamp, do listen to the success stories as part of your recovery programme anyway!

Ashok Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining 

This is a sort of UK version of a similar programme, this time focused specifically on ME/CFS because that’s what Ashok had. I preferred it only because it suited my more UK tendencies and I liked his soft voice and approach. That said, I feel the DNRS programme was more ‘finished’ somehow, more complete. I think, though, since I did both, Ashok has made some changes and they are much of a muchness. Ashok’s is cheaper and you can get to London more easily for group sessions rather than having to go to the US or Canada for the DNRS bootcamp if you are European anyway.

Actually, on this point, I just did both DVD programmes and Ashok’s webinar series and never went to a session, not least because I didn’t feel up to it at the time! I do think, though, that in these sort of programmes, there is huge benefit in doing group stuff – the so-called ‘borrowing benefits’ theory we discussed with EFT in a previous post – means you are likely to get more benefit if you do them with other people rather than on your own.

The other point I would make is that it can be of enormous benefit I think to have a couple of 1-1 sessions by phone/Skype or whatever to customise the system for you. I found it very hard to come up with the right approach to multiple food sensitivity myself, simply because these were so focused on MCS and ME. That might have just been me.

Anyway, you can learn more about Ashok’s programme here:

and, to be balanced, see one of his patient success stories here:

I like her because she is such a sceptic and down to earth 🙂

Anyway, both of these have very similar approaches. You are basically asked to do certain physical and mental repetitive exercises designed to re-set your learned brain pathways. The approach is based on neuroplasticity and psychology science. I found it quite exhausting but it gave me something to focus on – because you have to! – and made me feel I was less of a victim and taking some control back.

Calm First..

I want to remind you at this point, though, that I don’t recommend you go straight in for this type of training. Some do and are fine. Others, including me, find you have to calm the whole amygdala system down first and then retrain the brain. It was simply too over-stimulating and stressful for me when I went straight into it – see my post Whoa Is Me! for more on this.

This is actually why I have deliberately recommended the meditations first, then the Hanson Foundations programme here, which is a much gentler way to work on the calming and neuroplasticity techniques in my view.

All that said, I have done all of the programmes and I’m sure they will suit some of you. Just get the timing right is my advice. There are quite a few of these type programmes including the Lightning Process etc, but these are the ones I opted to trial for us.

During my trials, I have found that there is one method that crops up time and time again: Creative Visualisation 

This is not simply visualising yourself well, but needs to be done in a specific way, tying an image with a strong emotion. All the brain training programmes I did used it in some way, along with other methods, but I think this was the real key. I set out to find a programme to teach me how to do this properly and, happily, came across the Silva Method.

Silva Mind Body Healing

Vibrantly You may know this already – it’s a hugely successful programme in the US and worldwide, I believe, and I was a bit sceptical of the hype around it, but I decided to give it a go. I credit it with being the best brain-training type programme I used. And still use, alongside the meditation, EFT and Hanson Foundations programme – the combination of calming and retraining is essential for this to work in my opinion.

The Silva Method Mind Body Healing Programme is basically a set of videos and audios with different specific exercises to train you in their method of visualisation. I’m sure there are others out there but this felt different and somehow more powerful for me. It’s all in the emotion and techniques they use to encourage your visualisation to really ‘go in’ if you know what I mean.

I did it every day for about 2 months and then got distracted with researching other stuff, but I found it really helped.It sort of gave me my hope back. Again, I was encouraged to try it by Yasmina (low histamine chef lady) who used it herself to break her cycle of reactivity. See her story here. Incidentally, when we chatted about it, she had also tried DNRS but ultimately chose Silva instead.

I plan to go back and do the whole programme again when I’ve finished the Hanson one. I should really be doing the two together plus meditation but there are only so many hours in a day!

Anyway, do the Silva trial first and see how you feel with it. You can see more about it here (no video this time, although there are tons on YouTube!). I got mine through Mindvalley – remember Vishen’s Envisioning Method I recommended here – are you doing it?! (Vishen is the founder of Mindvalley where there are loads of different healing type programmes).

Silva Mind Body Healing Programme

Be warned, they (Silva, not MindValley) are heavily into marketing and you do get a ton of emails from them once you’ve signed up but you can opt out of a load later, thankfully! Bit of a shame actually as it rather puts you off a very good programme – or is that the Brit in me again?!

OK, does that all help? I am actually just now also trialling Joe Dispenza’s new neuroplasticity training programme Making Your Mind Matter too. I’ll keep you updated!

In essence, today’s message is:

A simple one. Do some brain training as well as your meditation. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose as long as you do some! And do it REALLY often. It is your job to get well so apply some time to it in the same way you would any other job, Off you go..:)

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